Just over 200 Kelowna residents converged at City Hall Tuesday night to attend a public hearing on a contentious Cedar Avenue proposal, with the vast majority aiming to put a stop to the plan.
Armed with signs with pithy sayings like, “parkland not pavement,” they filled council chambers until well after midnight, taking turns making a case for city politicians to vote against rezoning seven properties on the waterfront to accommodate a commercial and residential development.
The rezoning—if it’s approved at the April 18 meeting the decision was pushed back to—would clear the way for city plans to sell just under half of the land to a developer, who could build a 2.5 to four-storey mixed-use building that could have condos, a restaurant and other businesses.
The funds gained from the sale would, among other things, allow the city to build a boardwalk, a small park and lakeshore riparian area, with the combined effect of creating a feature they say would draw pedestrians and cyclists to the area.
“It’s the city’s desire to add value to the South Pandosy area by providing a great waterfront connection from South Pandosy, to Okanagan Lake,” said Derek Edstrom, the city’s strategic land development manager.
“Our second goal, is to create areas that have a sustainable live/work plan…that may attract people who want to live in a suburban area, to live in an urban area.”
It wasn’t an argument that resonated with many.
“Hats off to bikes-and-people first, but I want to speak against commercial and residential on this piece of property,” said Arnica Rowan, an Okanagan College professor, the first of 43 speakers, who differentiated herself as someone who “does work, live and play” in the neighbourhood.
“We need more parkland for more people …I’m in support of urban densification and riparian areas, but I’m not in support of commercial space,” Rowan said. “This is an opportunity that comes once every 20 years, so let’s not waste it.”
Another area resident thought the proposal is too adult-oriented, and not befitting the community it would be situated amidst.
“There’s no place for teenagers to play Frisbee, and children to run around with a soccer ball,” said Penny Pearson.
An elementary school student in the crowd backed that up when he took the microphone, to much fanfare, saying the plan looked to him like a giant sidewalk, not fit for play, setting the stage for dozens more comments of a similar ilk.
Over the course of the last several months, the city has received 59 letters of opposition and a petition 319-strong backing up their view.
And the conversation circulating through emails and at neighbourhood group meetings seems to have reached a fever pitch that put those gathered on edge.
Some attendees expressed concerns that their views weren’t being treated with the respect that the process called for, claiming that councillors had their minds made up and were asking questions that diminished what they had to say.
Others claimed to be put-off by the way the city politicians spoke to them.
Although he later apologized, Coun. Graeme James referred to the letter campaign of one attendee as “misleading” and “alarming” for its loose rendition of the facts.
Coun. Kevin Craig’s inquiry into the numbers of responses those representing neighbourhood groups received, was also viewed as undermining,
He too apologized, explaining he was just trying to take the pulse of the community.
Throughout it all, however, stand-in mayor Michele Rule’s request that those at the gathering not cheer or jeer fell on deaf ears.
Some went so far as to yell, “this isn’t a fascist” regime when Rule asked them to keep silent, so as to not discourage contrary comment.
Area resident Crystal Flamen was one of four speakers who did voice support for the plan, admitting in her opening words to be nervous by the reception she’d receive.
“I think we have to look at the bigger picture, I go running at the park and I go to the park with my coffee and guitar,” she said.
“But because there isn’t enough community participation at the park, I’m scared back to my home. I think we have great park space, but even though we’re here tonight, many people don’t use it.”
With the public hearing closed, city councillors are no longer able to speak to the issue of Cedar Avenue, or take more information from either the public or city staff.
Council will vote on the plan at the Monday April 18, council meeting.